Studies in Hadith and Islamic Law

Every Rose Has its Thorns: Abū Bakr al-Jassās and the Influence of the Mu‘tazila


Every Rose Has its Thorns: Abū Bakr al-Jassās al-Rāzī and the Influence of the Mu‘tazila

By Muntasir Zaman

The proverbial statement of Imām Mālik, “The opinion of every person is subject to acceptance and rejection except the occupant of this grave [i.e. the Messenger of Allāh, may peace and blessings be upon him]”[1] is important to bear in mind when appraising Muslim personalities. From its inception until the present day, the Hanafī school of jurisprudence enjoyed a galaxy of brilliant scholars, from the likes of al-Tahāwī [d. 321 AH] and al-Qudūrī [d. 428 AH] to the likes of Ibn Nujaym [d. 970 AH] and Ibn ‘Âbidīn [d. 1251 AH]. One of the greatest Hanafī scholars to have excelled in both the fields of Hadīth and Fiqh was the renowned author of Ahkām al-Qur’ān, Abū Bakr al-Jassās al-Rāzī.

His name is Ahmad and his agnomen is Abū Bakr. He hailed from the city of Rayy in present day Tehran, and is, thus, referred to as “al-Rāzī.” As an occupation, he would deal with Jass [limestone], which is why he is also known as “al-Jassās.” He was born in Rayy in the year 305 AH and passed away in Baghdād in the year 370 AH. Abū Bakr al-Rāzī undertook his formative studies in his hometown, Rayy, after which he travelled to Baghdād where he mastered various Islāmic sciences, including Fiqh, Hadīth and Tafsīr. Under the guidance and instruction of his teacher, Abu ‘l-Hasan al-Karkhī, he travelled to Naysāpūr, the center of Hadīth scholars at that time, where he enjoyed the company of the famous Hadīth scholar, al-Hākim al-Naysābūrī [d. 405 AH]. The list of scholars from whom al-Rāzī benefited is lengthy, but famous amongst them are: Sulaymān al-Tabarānī [d. 360 AH] – the great Hadīth scholar, author of the Ma‘ājim –, Abu ‘l-Hasan al-Karkhī [d. 340 AH] – the famous Hanafī authority – and Muhammad ibn Bakr ibn Dāsa [d. 346 AH] – the transmitter of Sunan Abī Dāwūd.[2]

Despite his great standing and acceptance by mainstream scholarship, Abū Bakr al-Rāzī was influenced by the Mu‘tazila and held several views contrary to the Ahl al-Sunnah wa ‘l-Jamā‘a, some of which are listed hereunder:

  • Rejection of the attributes of Allah. He says, “There is no capability by which He is Capable nor is there grandeur by which He is Grand.”[3]
  • Rejection of the beatific vision of Allah. This is understood from his commentary on the verse, “sight cannot encompass him”[4]
  • Considering magic to be an illusion. This is understood from his commentary on the verse, “They go by what the Shayātīn advertised…”[5]
  • Rejection of evil (sharr) being the creation of Allah just like good (khayr). This is understood from his commentary on the verse, “and Allah does not like corruption.”[6]
  • Rejection of Harām food as Rizq [sustenance]. This is understood from his commentary of the verse, “and who spend from what we have provided for them”[7]

The Mu‘tazilī influence on Abū Bakr al-Rāzī is also evident from his praising a Mu’tazilī scholar, who was merely an expert in the field of rhetoric and language, and considering him to hold correct beliefs. In his book, Ahkām al-Qurān, Abū Bakr al-Rāzī writes, “He [i.e. Abū Muslim al-‘Isfahānī al-Mu’tazilī [d. 322 AH], the first to deny the concept of abrogation] held sound beliefs and should not be doubted regarding them.”[8] Moreover, some of his primary teachers were from the Mu‘tazila, such as Abū ‘Alī al-Fārisī [d. 377 AH], ‘Alī ibn Ahmad al-Tanūkhī [d. 342 AH] and Abu ‘l-Hasan al-Karkhī [d. 340 AH].[9]

Nonetheless, despite his isolated views in a few issues, not only was Abu Bakr al-Jassās a widely celebrated Sunni jurist, but he also responded to the contentions of the Mu‘tazila, such as the issue of punishment in the grave [10].[11] Hence, the most that can be said regarding him is that he was influenced by the Mu’tazila and inclined to several of their beliefs.[12] al-Dhahabi [d. 748 AH] writes, “And It is said that he was inclined to the Mu’tazila.”[13] He sates that he was “inclined” and did not include him among them, not to mention that he alluded to this view in the passive voice. Al-Khatīb al-Badghdādī [d. 463 AH] praised him, “Abū Bakr al-Rāzī, the jurist, the leading authority of the Ahl al-Ra’y in his time. He studied Fiqh under Abu ‘l-Hasan al-Karkhī and continued until the leadership culminated at him.”[14] Al-Dhahabī also writes, “[Abū Bakr al-Rāzī] was a leading erudite scholar, Mufti, , scholar of ‘Irāq, master of Hadīth and an extensive traveler [in the acquisition of knowledge].”[15]

[1] Al-Sakhāwī, al-Maqāsid al-Hasana, 513

[2] Sā’id Bakdāsh, Prologue to Shar Mukhtasar al-Tahāwī, 71

[3] Al-Rāzī, Sharh Mukhtasar al-Tahāwī, 388:7

[4] Al-Rāzī, Ahkām al-Qurān, 169:4

[5] Ibid, 51:1

[6] Ibid, 396:1

[7] Ibid, 29:1

[8] Ibid, 72:1

[9] Urkhān/’Abd al-Qādir, footnotes on Nāzūra al-Haqq, 210

[10] Al-Rāzī, Ahkām al-Qurān, 115, 166:1

[11] Safwat Mustafa’, al-Imām Abū Bakr al-Jassas wa Manhajuhū fi al-Tafsīr, 549

[12] Ibid

[13] Al-Dhahabī, Siyar ’A‘lām al-Nubalā’, 341:16

[14] Al-Baghdādī, Tārīkh Baghdād, 513:5

[15] Al-Dhahabī, Siyar ’A‘lām al-Nubalā’, 340:16


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